Thursday, 18 June 2015

Ali Knight On not writing about what you know

Today's guest blog is by author Ali Knight.  She is the author of four novels the most recent being The Silent Ones.  She is also a freelance contributor to a number of newspapers and magazines.

There’s a cliché often told to aspiring novelists: write about what you know.

My advice: Don’t.

Writers’ actual lives (including my own) are mind-numbingly repetitive and constrained: there’s only so much fun one can have staring at the same office wall every day, which for most writers is a corner of the bedroom or a half space under the stairs. It’s an event worth cheering if I even leave the house. But I have been blessed with an imagination, and it’s the job description to make full use of it.

In my crime novels I’m drawn to the delicious and tantalising otherness that is out there in the world. Creating characters, places and dilemmas that are far removed from my everyday experience is what makes me return to my laptop day after day, week after week, year after year.

Ideas for characters, for example, bubble up in the most humdrum places: when I’m sitting watching someone on the Tube, or standing in the pay queue at Pret. Perhaps behind a young man. With buds in his ears and wide, slouchy shoulders, like he doesn’t quite know where to put them. I notice a skateboard in his bony hand, this young man who doesn’t seem to fit in the world. He’s got a tattoo or three, and maybe a piercing somewhere I can’t see.

And then later in the day or week, I see this young man again, or one a bit like him, as I pass the music college at the end of my street. There he is, in a huddle of intense students with guitar cases over their grubby green parkas, smoking and scuffing his feet. His distance from me in terms of sex, age, experience and lifestyle is vast. I don’t know him, and that’s why I’m excited, because being so different from me he could become a character I could use.

That man eventually turned into Darren Evans, the hero of my new novel, The Silent Ones.

Darren’s a recently graduated art student living squashed back into his parents’ house in South London. He’s directionless, disorganised, lazy, debt-ridden and smokes too much dope. But he’s also a romantic and a caring son, who’s worried about his mum, who is having treatment for cancer. He’s haunted by terrible dreams, of the tragedy that struck his family ten years ago when his sister Carly disappeared, aged 13, presumed to be a victim of notorious female child killer Olivia Duvall.  

Driven by a desire to alleviate his mum’s physical and mental suffering, Darren breaks the law to get a job as a cleaner at the psychiatric hospital where Olivia is imprisoned to try and find answers about what happened to Carly.

Now, I’ve never met a middle-aged, female serial killer, and you can bet Darren never has. But I’m a writer, I’ve got an imagination, and I assure you sparks will fly…

Follow Ali on Facebook and Twitter: @aliknightauthor.  You can also find out more about her work on her website.

Ali Knight’s fourth novel, The Silent Ones, is published on June 18, 2015, by Hodder.

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